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Ontario's highest opioid death rate is in Sudbury District again

Greater Sudbury's supervised consumption site is expected to reduce overdose deaths. As the opioid crisis worsens, will other northern Ontario centres follow suit?

The approval of a new supervised drug consumption site for Sudbury comes at a time when public health has revealed that more than 100 people died from opioid-related overdoses last year and Sudbury continued to have the highest per capita death rate.

The figures were presented Thursday afternoon during the regular monthly meeting of the Sudbury Board of Health.

Shana Calixte, manager of mental health and substance use in the health promotion division at Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) presented the information as part of a formal briefing to the board on the new consumption site that is located at 24 Energy Court, at an industrial area near Elm and Lorne Streets.

"The opioid poisoning crisis continues to take the lives of many, including citizens in Sudbury," Calixte said.

See related: 'No playbook' for opioid crisis and related social issues

See also: Public Health Sudbury mulling team approach as opioid deaths soar

"Both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, Sudbury had the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths in the province."

The Sudbury opioid overdose rate was 49.2 deaths per 100,000 population, versus the provincial rate of 18.8 deaths per 100,000, Calixte said.

"In 2021, we recently learned that we lost 101 residents of our city to the opioid crisis," Calixte revealed. 

See: Report shows opioid-related deaths surged during pandemic, impacting vulnerable populations most

In the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, the most recent data available from Public Health Ontario shows an opioid overdose rate of 43.2 death per 100,000 population in the second quarter of 2021.

See related: 2020 North Bay-Parry Sound opioid deaths fifth highest in the province

"We know there is not just one solution and that immediate, medium and long-term strategies are needed to address this crisis," Calixte added.

She said the whole idea of supervised consumption sites is to reduce overdose deaths. Calixte said the site will provide sterile supplies for drug users, education on safer ways to use drugs, and access to health treatment and social service options.  

"These services have been shown to reduce opioid overdose deaths, reduce infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, increase access and referrals to health and social services and be cost-effective solutions for the health system," Calixte told the board. 

See also: Should Ontario explore B.C.'s proposal to decriminalize personal drug possession?

She also spoke about some of the misinformation that surrounds the idea of having a supervised consumption site.  

"These services have not been shown to shift drug use to different neighbourhoods, increase rates of intravenous drug use, or increase drug-related harms," Calixte told the board.

She added that it was back in 2019 when the Sudbury Community Drug Strategy decided to do a need study and community survey.  

"And the conclusion was definitely yes, supervised consumption sites were needed in our community and support was provided to go to the next steps of applying to both provincial and federal governments for support," Calixte said.

See: Opioid Crisis: Northern cities working toward supervised consumption sites

She said the news that the federal government is allowing the site means that the application for additional funding from the Ontario government can now move forward.

Calixte said the City of Greater Sudbury has a contract with PHSD, which in turn has a contract with Réseau ACCESS Network  to operate the site on a daily basis, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 365 days a year. 

"Services will include supervised injection, supervised oral consumption, supervised inter-nasal consumption, and drug testing using fentanyl strips. And also in partnership with community agencies, the supervised consumption site will also provide counseling and distribution of safer drug use equipment, as well as referrals to other medical and social services," Calixte said.

No specific timeline was given as to when the site would actually open, since several staff members need to be hired.

She added that a stakeholder advisory committee is being set up to provide guidance to the site along with an advisory committee to develop mitigation strategies and provide support for any community concerns that might arise.

Board chair René Lapierre remarked he was pleased that the federal exemption was granted that allows addicted persons the freedom to use prohibited substances on site.

"What great news to get our federal exemption. I think that's amazing. Now we just need the province to step up and help with the operational dollars as we go," Lapierre said.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for

Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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